Tobe Hooper is widely regarded among the casual fans as one of the masters of horror (he did, after all, participate in the TV series of the same name). But he’s had more hits and misses in his career than most of the other masters have been lucky to have. Still, Hooper is deserving of his title, even if only judged on the great films of his career. Here are the five films that earn him that title.
Lifeforce is written by Dan O’Bannon, writer of Alien and director of Return of the Living Dead, so that’s a strength right off the bat. It’s based off of a novel by Colin Wilson titled The Space Vampires. And while the movie’s title is a little less blunt, that’s still basically what it’s about. While it performed terribly at the box office, Lifeforce is still a strong science fiction horror movie about cryogenically frozen “space girl” that is brought to earth and set up for autopsy in a London museum where she escapes and begins to drain the life force of people she comes into contact with. It’s a new and refreshing take on vampirism and the movie succeeds for its imagination alone, but it is also a film with a strong tone and impressive visual style.
4. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2-
Overshadowed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the second film makes for a very interesting companion piece. More than anything else it’s a satire of the first film and the way that it was perceived. It’s everything that the first film was not and that is a large part of what makes it work. It amps up the dark sense of humor that’s barely evident while watching through the original film for the first time. It’s zany, weird, slapstick and gory. It explores on the surface all the psychosexual aspects of Leatherface that were discussed in the decade between the first and second film. This is Tobe Hooper laughing at his critics and having as much fun as possible while doing it. On the straightforward surface, it’s gory, funny, has some great makeup effects by Tom Savini and a strong performance from Dennis Hopper.
3. SALEM’S LOT-
Based on the novel of the same name, it remains one of the all-time best miniseries adaptations of a Stephen King book. Altogether, Salem’s Lot is one of King’s strongest stories. It’s a simple story. Vampires have moved into a small town in Maine and begin taking it apart while the town barely notices that it’s dying. It’s a story that lends itself to a miniseries as it features a large cast of small-town folk, each hiding their own secrets. The vampires themselves are haunting, not romantic aristocrats, but soulless spectres. These vampires might have been your neighbor yesterday, and are now scratching at your window with shining silver eyes, demanding to be let in. The largest change from the novel is in the head vampire, Mister Barlow. Barlow in the novel was a much more Dracula-like figure. He spoke, he lured people in with dark promises and had a sense of elegance about him. This Barlow is silent and more Nosferatu-like in design. It works for this film and this vampire is well-remembered and has terrified viewers for over thirty years.
There’s been some debate as to whether or not Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper or writer/producer Steven Spielberg. But Hooper is the credited director, so it has to count. And if it has to count, it has to count near the top. Poltergeist is one of the all-time classic haunted house movies. It made everything scary, from TV static to clown dolls to overgrown trees in the backyard. The performances are strong and incredibly heartfelt. Zelda Rubenstein has become iconic as eccentric medium Tangina. This is a movie about a family dealing with a crisis that threatens it from without, that threatens to take their daughter away, but a family that holds together nonetheless. It’s one of the few horror movies that everyone knows and virtually everyone has seen. And there’s a reason for that. It’s simply one of the best.
1. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE-
Tobe Hooper’s debut film, in which the entire cast and crew nearly died on a constant basis and which seemed more like a battle than actual filmmaking. But it all paid off. Because it gave us one of the most raw, intense horror films ever made. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre feels like it is really happening. It’s a manic, insane film and it could never be duplicated—even though other films certainly tried. It’s not an overtly violent film, but it feels like it is. You feel like you’re seeing everything when you’re watching it, even if you’re seeing nothing. Forty years later it’s still one of the most infamous movies ever made, in any genre. It changed the genre in no small way and Tobe Hooper is directly responsible for that. He gave the genre one of its cornerstones. He may have had an eccentric career following that, but it’s hard to top such an incredible debut.